Fishways Improved Along Saugatucket River In Wakefield

May 23, 2016

For the first time in years, river herring are traveling up the Saugatucket River in Wakefield without the help of humans lifting them over a dam during the spring migration. 

River herring are an important source of food for other animals. This year the Saugatucket River in Wakefield has a new fish ladder that's easier for river herring to find and swim through. Bryan Sojkowski, an engineer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the new ladder replaces an old one that wasn't well designed. 

“You can actually see a remnant piece of concrete by the bridge there,” Sojkowski pointed out as he toured the reconstructed fishway with other state and federal officials. “That was the original entrance that the fish were bypassing, and a lot of fish were getting stuck in this cobble field and ending up dying."

That prompted people to volunteer each spring to help lift river herring over the dam. Now the improved fish pathway is allowing thousands of river herring this spring to travel up the river without the help of people. 

River herring migrate each spring from the Atlantic Ocean to freshwater rivers, such as the Saugatucket, to lay eggs.  Jim Turek, an ecologist with NOAA Fisheries, said they swim about 10,000 miles a year out in the ocean, dodging predators that rely on them for food. 

“So it’s very important to the ecosystem for those fish to be in the ocean, but the critical part is for them to be able to spawn in a freshwater river like the Saugatucket," said Turek. He added well-designed fish ladders make a successful journey happen over dammed rivers.  

The project was funded both with public and private money. It includes the reconstruction of a fishway at the Palisades Mill along the Saugautucket, which runs from Indian Lake in South Kingstown to Point Judith Pond in Narragansett.